New displays welcome visitors to Light Up Middletown

One of the “premier events” in the region is now open for the season.

Light Up Middletown, a 1¼-mile drive-through holiday lights display, begins its 19th year with several new features, said Bill Becker, a longtime member of the Grandpa Gang, a group of men who volunteer to maintain the display every year.

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A new 40-foot tunnel, a 3-D manger scene and a light display built by AK Steel employees have been added to the display at Smith Park, Becker said. The AK display, which shows hot steel being poured into a torpedo car, depicts what Middletown “is all about,” he said.

The Grandpa Gang began installing Light Up Middletown on Oct. 1 and this week volunteers were testing the hundreds of thousands of lights after the recent rain.

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“Water is our enemy,” Becker said.

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Light Up runs 6 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31, said Cheryl Landen, Light Up Middletown secretary. She said more than 76,000 people drove through the display last year and she expects more this year. Becker said numerous tour bus companies already have made reservations to drive through Light Up Middletown.

Mary Huttlinger, executive director of the Middletown Visitors Bureau, is thrilled Light Up Middletown is listed on Ohio’s Holiday Lights Trail for the first time. She believes the added statewide exposure will benefit what she called the “bustling community and specialty shopping” in nearby downtown.

Each visitor brings an “economic boost” to downtown businesses when they shop, stroll, and eat, she said. She called Light Up Middletown “an appealing attraction” that brings in visitors from outside the Middletown area.

Ohio receives an average of 20 million visits in November and December, many from people visiting Ohio for the holidays.

“The holidays are a popular time to visit Ohio, and millions of dazzling lights are a big part of the attraction” said Matt MacLaren, director of TourismOhio. “The Holiday Lights Trail and Holidays in Ohio web page are both designed to help Ohioans and visitors make new memories while experiencing Ohio’s seasonal attractions.”

The annual Light Up Middletown Balloon Glow will be held from 7 to 7:45 p.m. Dec. 5, weather permitting, Landen said.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will appear from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. Each family will receive one free picture with Santa and Mrs. Claus and additional pictures can be purchased by donation, she said.

Landen recommended attending Light Up Middletown during the week to avoid the lengthy weekend lines.

Proceeds from Light Up Middletown are invested back into the city park, Landen said. Light Up Middletown, the Ohio Balloon Challenge and Middletown Youth Soccer Association paid $10,000 last year to have a large parking lot paved in Smith Park, and she hopes the entrance way to the park can be paved next year.

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